Bishan Bedi September 23, 2010

Graceful and gracious

Bishan Bedi's talent was vast and he had the heart to match. The beauty of his action was bewitching and he had the cruelty to go with it

Some years ago, while recuperating after surgery, I had a chance to put to the test HG Wells' dictum that the mind is the natural habitat of man. I was in intensive care and there were no books or television. To relax I had to travel inwards. And the image that helped was the poetry of Bishan Bedi's bowling.

I could see in my mind's eye the easy run-up, the fluid action, the follow-through, and the half-jump that confirmed to the batsman that he had been had. I marvelled at the contrast between the gentle curve of the ball in the air and its vicious pace off the wicket. The rainbow makes a beautiful arc, but it is predictable. Bedi's arc was pleasing and as a bonus its effect was unpredictable.

Bedi, the only Indian with over 1500 first-class wickets, claimed 266 wickets from 67 Tests. It is necessary to descend to figures when discussing an artiste like Bedi only because, in sport, beauty without cruelty is a silly notion favoured by those long in the tooth and short in memory. Every generation produces a great player who does not please the eye (Allan Border is a good example), but there is no great player who does not have the figures to show for it.

I once saw Bedi leave a batsman stranded down the wicket when the ball went the wrong way after it had seemed set to come in with the arm. Bedi was 53 years old then, and made no secret of his enjoyment at having fooled the batsman. This enjoyment was a big part of his game. "I dismissed Ian Chappell on 99 in a Test with just such a delivery," he recalled, demonstrating how he had held the ball in his palm and slid his wrist under it.

Like Wilfred Rhodes, he "dismissed the batsman even before the ball had pitched", thanks to the ability to apparently yank it back at the last moment

Bedi had the full repertoire of the finger-spinner, and must rate as one of the two or three finest bowlers of his type the game has seen. Like Wilfred Rhodes, he "dismissed the batsman even before the ball had pitched" (Cardus' words), thanks to the ability to apparently yank it back at the last moment. Unlike Hedley Verity and Derek Underwood, who both bowled much faster, Bedi didn't rely on the pitch for his wickets.

He was the most generous of bowlers and wore his stature lightly. This generosity extended to the opposition too. Bedi believes in the brotherhood of spinners, and all of them have access to his experience and wisdom. All they have to do is ask. On a turning track in Bangalore in 1986-87, a low-scoring match ended in Pakistan's favour by 16 runs after left-arm spinner Iqbal Qasim was handed this gem from Bedi: "On a turner the most dangerous ball is the one that goes through straight."

Against Tony Lewis' Englishmen in 1972-73, Bedi claimed 25 wickets to BS Chandrasekhar's 35, as the spinners harassed the batsmen. Bedi was often brought on in the third over, and had the batsmen in trouble from the start. It was a measure of both his confidence and his generosity that he found time to bowl to Dennis Amiss in the nets to help him sort out his problems.

You have to go back nine decades or so, to Australian leggie Arthur Mailey, to find a kindred soul. Mailey took flak for helping out opponents. Extravagantly talented, both he and Bedi bowled with the lavishness of millionaires. Bedi's credo was first spelt out by Mailey, who said, "I'd rather spin and see the ball hit for four than bowl a batsman out by a straight one." On another occasion Mailey said: "If I ever bowl a maiden over, it's not my fault but the batsman's." It is a sentiment Bedi would understand. Despite one-day cricket, he refused to bring his art down from the classical heights into the sphere of everyday utility. This refusal to compromise has been the hallmark of Bedi the player, the man, the administrator, coach and columnist.

Most people are publicly modest but privately quite immodest about their achievements. In Bedi's case, it is the reverse. In a letter to me, he wrote: "How I played my first Test is still an unsolved mystery. That I went on to captain the country is even more mind-boggling. Cricket is a funny game - always throwing up surprise packets." Few graceful performers are that gracious.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2002

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sukumar on September 25, 2010, 3:46 GMT

    I remember watching Bedi towards the fag end of his career when he had a miserable series in Pakistan in 1978, The selectors were nice enough to give him another opportunity in the next series and thereafter he was replaced by Dilip Doshi who performed extremely well for the next 3 years. Bedi has been a bitter man ever since he was dropped from the Indian team but the world knows that Doshi at that time was a better spinner. Bedi's bowling action could be like poetry, very much like the bowling action of Holding but Holding had figures to match unlike Bedi. Let us stop fooling ourselves, Bedi was a good bowler but he is no legand.

  • V on September 25, 2010, 3:24 GMT

    @Dr Dhami: Entirely agree. As a spinner, Bedi was par excellence. I suspect most people making comments come from two major categories. Either they are too young to have watched him bowl or they judge his bowling from his brash comments. Some people think that Bedi would be clobbered today. Well his economy rate of 2.1 is excellent and he bowled to Sobers, Lloyd, Richards, Ian Chappel, and Walters to name a few - some of the finest players of spin in the game's history. No doubt about it, Murali had a controversial action according to many and his 800 wickets will always have that asterisk attached to his records. Unfortunately Bedi also has a knack of putting his foot in his mouth off the field. Which explains his overall unpopularity.

  • J Ranjith on September 25, 2010, 0:40 GMT

    @wolf777: How do you know that the helicopter is having Stanford inside or any other similar criminal? I would rather expect someone to identify Gavaskar by his face or by inquiring any intelligent person nearby than to identify Stanford sitting inside a closed chopper!

  • Rajkumar on September 24, 2010, 17:50 GMT

    Though in my mid-30s, I haven't see much of Bedi's bowling. Suresh brings out the beauty of his cricket, his cricketing brain and heart very well. Was a precious view into the works of an artist. Bedi as a critic has always been honest - he has always spoken what he believed in consistently. Public can say they don't agree with his point of view, but cannot call him dishonest ever.

  • shafeen on September 24, 2010, 17:44 GMT

    very amusing comments! I agree - calling Bedi gracious is like calling Sehwag defensive. He's full of nasty cracks at all kinds of people, for apparently no good reason. as far as his bowling goes - i never saw it, heard it was beautiful and artistic, but i've always had faith in stats. A work of art with a strike rate of 80 (whilst bowling on spin friendly tracks half the time) - probably isn't great. Especially when his spinner teamates were doing so much better.

  • pubudu on September 24, 2010, 17:12 GMT

    if Bedi to take 800 wckets he will still be bowling. with his dismal strike rate no wonder India hardly won any matches those days. Bedi wouldn't have even got in to current Indian team if he palyd in this era.

  • Sanjit on September 24, 2010, 14:56 GMT

    It is very sad to see comments on Bedi's off-the-field life and utterances. Menon decided on focus on Bedi the cricketer: a focus that seems to have been lost on so many readers who have commented adversely. For those whose cognitive abilities have lead them to beleive to the contrary: THIS IS NOT AN ARTICLE ABOUT MURALI OR WHAT ANYONE SAID ABOUT HIM. Menon is spot on about Bedi's lovely action (one of the best ever) and his "cricketing" record.

  • The on September 24, 2010, 14:09 GMT

    Bishan Singh Bedi as a person might be vindictive and bitter, however to doubt his credentials as a bowler would be silly. Does that mean the top batsmen who were dismissed by Bedi were not good enough? To say that he took only 266 wickets and Murali took 800 wickets and therefore Bedi is an ordinary bowler would only be termed as foolish. Yes, Murali was very talented, however one can also say a lot of his wickets are cheap wickets, and Sri Lanka had a one bowler attack, with him doing bulk of bowling meaning more opportunities for him to take wickets. Bedi was part of spin quartet where wickets were shared. No doubt Murali was a great bowler, but so is Bedi, his crticism of Murali is his own personal bias, one may not respect Bedi as a person but he undoubtedly deserves respect as a cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on September 24, 2010, 13:52 GMT

    Suresh Menon is really stretching the bounds of credibility by calling Bedi "gracious". Bedi's spiteful and constant maligning of Murali has made him look like little more than a bitter and jealous has-been. Whence the grace?

  • Saraschandra on September 24, 2010, 13:04 GMT

    this is such nonsense..... absolutely useless cricketer, arrogant and mediocre...... he's a waste of writing space.....

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